Saturday, February 18, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Group C Analysis


The 2017 World Baseball Classic brings expectations for a few squads. One of the top contenders will be in Group C.

Where: Marlins Park, Miami

Who: USA, Dominican Republic, Canada, Colombia

When: March 9-12

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U.S.A. 

Best Finish: Lost in semi-finals in 2009

Notable players: P Andrew Miller, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, OF Andrew McCutchen, OF Giancarlo Stanton, OF Adam Jones (see full roster here)

Analysis: Some critics will claim this is the USA's most loaded roster in WBC tournament history. There is plenty of debate on that compared to past teams. Jim Leyland will be managing for USA and hopes to give the team more success than the past.

This tournament has been taken lightly by several Americans, fans and players alike. Those who are with the team in 2017 say they have pride and hope to make a statement. The question is, will they treat this event like it's preseason or postseason? This roster has several talented pitchers who are coming off a down season including Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Marcus Stroman. It isn't the best possible group, but there is enough talent to compete with the rest. The're capable of being in the top tier of this tournament, but most will not take them seriously.

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Dominican Republic

Best Finish: Won gold in 2013

Notable players: P Dellin Betances, P Johnny Cueto, 2B Robinson Cano, 3B Manny Machado, OF Starling Marte, 1B Carlos Santana (see full roster here)

Analysis: The infield of this team is ridiculous having riches everywhere. Machado, Cano, Sanatana and Jonathan Villar can be inserted as a starting infield, but there could be even better options. Adrian Beltre is also available and with all the talent on this roster, someone has to sit out. The pitching staff isn't the greatest in the world, but it might not need to be with Gregory Polanco and Marte providing offense in the outfield. Most analysts consider the Dominican Republic to be the favorites of the WBC and repeat.

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Colombia

Best Finish: First appearance

Notable players: P Julio Teherán, P José Quintana, P Guillermo Moscoso

Analysis: Quintana and Teherán are expected to carry the team. In the opener against the USA, both pitchers could create fits if their manager wants to combine them in one game. Otherwise, this pitching staff and roster is not capable of competing with the rest, but the two major leaguers can keep it interesting.

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Canada

Best Finish: First round, 9th place in 2006

Notable players: P Scott Mathieson, P John Axford, 1B Freddie Freeman, IF Justin Morneau

Analysis: Canada has individuals like Freeman who are stars, but it lacks a quantity of them as a whole. Former Dodgers pitcher Éric Gagné and ex Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster will both be playing for the country. With the lack of Major League talent on this squad, the expectations will be minimal.
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Outlook:

The Dominican Republic should cruise to winning this group by a landslide. Second place is up for grabs, but the U.S.A. is expected to advance if the games were played on paper. Colombia could be an interesting spoiler for a game or two if Teherán or Quintana give them a chance.

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Group A Analysis

Group B Analysis

Samurai Japan roster Analysis

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Group B Analysis

Group B will take place in Tokyo Dome
Here is a look at Group B for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. In this piece, we will look closer at the competition for Samurai Japan in this pool.

For our thoughts on Samurai Japan's roster, click here

Where: Tokyo Dome

When: March 7-10

Who: Japan, China, Australia, Cuba

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Japan

Best finish: Won gold in 2006 and 2009

Notable players: See full roster here.

Analysis: Samurai Japan is considered a favorite for this tournament, but not the No. 1 favorite, according to the betting odds. Some oddsmakers might have given them the edge had Shohei Otani been playing, but this team is still stacked with talent. There are plenty of question marks if Japan faces elite talent elsewhere, but they are good enough to compete with any other team.

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China

Best finish: 1st round (11th place in 2009)

Notable players: P Kwon Ju, OF Gui Yuan Xu, P Bruce Chen

Analysis: China will be led by John McLaren, who is remembered for managing the Seattle Mariners from 2007-2008.  Like South Korea's team, China's team is about who isn't there when they were eligible. Vance Worley, Austin Brice and Kolten Wong could have potentially been part of this squad. Xu is a prospect in the Orioles system while Ju is currently in KBO. Chen is mostly remembered for his time with the Kansas City Royals. Overall, there isn't much to like about this squad as they are one of the largest underdogs in the group.

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Australia

Best finish: 1st round (12th place in 2009)

Notable players: P Liam Hendriks, P Peter Moylan, OF Mitch Dening

Analysis: Hendriks is the only one currently with an MLB contract, while the rest are in the minors or in another league. There's quite a presence of MLB castoffs including Travis Blackley, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Peter Moylan. The ABL season concluded earlier this month and most of this team isn't as rusty as someone from MLB would be. There are also plenty of guys from the minors who participated in the ABL season.

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Cuba

Best finish: Lost in Finals (2006)

Notable players: OF Alfredo Despaigne, OF Frederich Cepeda, OF Yoelkis Cespedes, P
Freddy Álvarez, P Vladimir García\

Analysis: Cuba is one of the oldest teams in this competition with the mean age being 30 years old. The country decided it wouldn't allow any defectors who left for MLB or MiLB to play for them in the WBC, making this roster a mystery for the most part. Yoelkis Cespedes is the younger half-brother of Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Both Álvarez and García should be mainstays in the rotation to keep games competitive. Hitting is a concern as a whole outside of Despaigne, but the pitching should remain interesting. The biggest advantage this squad has is the continuity of playing with each other for more than a month. They participated in the Caribbean Series in February and will have more time together than any other team prior to the WBC.

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Outlook: 

The consensus vibe among both experts and fans has Japan finishing on top of the group with Cuba advancing in second place. China does not stand a chance, while Australia could squeak out a win at best. Cuba's squad isn't as well-known to the rest of the world, but the talent is there to still win the group if they can catch Japan in the opening game on March 7.

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Group A Analysis

Group C Analysis

Samurai Japan roster Analysis

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Group A analysis

Group A will have its games at the Gocheok Sky Dome, home of the Nexen Heroes in Seoul, South Korea
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic upon us, we here at Graveyard Baseball will break down each group in both writing and on a future podcast episode. For this article, we will take a look at Group a

Where: Gocheok Sky Dome (Seoul, South Korea)

When: March 6-9

Who: South Korea, Israel, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands

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South Korea

Best finish: Lost in Finals (2009)

Notable players: IF Dae-Ho Lee, P Seung-Hwan Oh, P Hyeon-Jong Yang, OF Sok-min Park

Analysis: This year's Korean team is not as much about who is on the team, but who isn't from a stateside standpoint. Jung-Ho Kang was taken off due to a DUI. Byung-Ho Park had an ineffective 2016 season with the Minnesota Twins and Hyun-Soo Kim is focusing on being with the Baltimore Orioles.

Dae-Ho Lee will re-join KBO after this tournament and Seung-Hwan Oh is coming off a solid season with the St. Louis Cardinals. Hyeon-Jong Yang is the most notable pitcher among the bunch, but the staff as a whole is viewed as above average and not elite. This team is capable of hitting, but the star power is lacking compared to other teams in this tournament.

Manager Kim In-Sik won the 2015 Premier 12 which included an upset against Japan in Tokyo Dome. His urgent managing helped Korea get within striking distance and they would eventually come back.  With this being teh host team, they are expected to advance, but aren't the top contenders compared to the field.

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Israel

Best finish: 1st appearance

Notable players: P Scott Feldman, IF Ike Davis, P Dylan Axelrod, P Craig Breslow, P Jason Marquis

Analysis: Israel was able to qualify for this tournament by taking out Great Britain and Brazil along the way. Unfortunately, majority of this roster has players who have been bouncing up and down from MLB to MiLB. Marquis comes out of retirement to participate in this tournament and it appears that this team will have an uphill battle.

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Chinese Taipei (Taiwan)

Best Finish: Second round (2013)

Notable players: P Kuan-Yu Chen, P Chun-Lin Kuo, P Wei-Chung Wang, P Chien-Ming Wang

Analysis: A total of 23 of the 28 players on the roster come from the CPBL in Taiwan. One notable Saitama Seibu Lions connection is Taigen Kaku, who will be managing this team. As a whole, the CPBL has gone through some tough times, where there are only four teams that exist. The level of baseball within the CPBL is around the Single-A level and its hitter dependent.

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Netherlands

Best Finish: Lost in semi-finals (2013)

Notable players: P Kenley Jansen, P Rick Van Den Hurk, IF Xander Bogaerts, IF Jonathan Schoop, IF Andrelton Simmons, OF Wlaldimir Balentien

Analysis: The Dutch, sometimes known as the Oranje in soccer terms, have quite a share of MLB talent on this squad. They're coming of a solid run where they made the Final Four in San Francisco from 2013. As we've written, they're an underappreciated team who could make some noise in this tournament based on the talent they have.

Simmons is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game while Schoop is coming off a fine hitting season with the Orioles. Jansen is a great closer while Van Den Hurk has become a solid starter for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Bogearts should also be fine at 3B.

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Outlook: 

Most will say that Korea will win this group with the Netherlands coming in second. The consensus is that both teams are all but a look to advance. The Dutch are capable of winning this group given their talent. Chinese Taipei and Israel are both on the outside looking to sneak up on the favorites.

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Samurai Japan roster Analysis

Group B Analysis

Group C Analysis


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Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Breaking Down Samurai Japan's roster


The 2017 World Baseball Classic will begin in March. With the rosters around the rest of the field finalized, Samurai Japan has its own storyline as they attempt to win their third title in four attempts. 

Here's a breakdown of the main roster for the 2017 team: 

Pitchers (13): 

SP Shota Takeda (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

SP/RP Hirotoshi Masui (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

SP Takahiro Norimoto (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)

SP Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants)

SP Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers)

SP Ayumu Ishikawa (Chiba Lotte Marines)

SP Kodai Senga (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

RP Naoki Miyanishi (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

RP Ryo Akiyoshi (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

RP Kazuhisa Makita (Saitama Seibu Lions)

RP Toshiya Okada (Chunichi Dragons)

RP Yuki Matsui (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)

RP Yoshihisa Hirano (Orix Buffaloes)

Analysis: 

The big part that is missing is Shohei Otani as he is recovering from an ankle injury. Shota Takeda became the replacement and is expected to be a starter. Norimoto, Sugano and Ishikawa are also expected to start games for Samurai Japan.

Who is going to close? Hirano and Matsui have the most experience from 2016, but the latter had a down season. It's also likely that Fujinami and Senga, both traditionally starters, will be relievers after the starter reaches the pitch count limit.

There's quite a few middle relievers with Okada, Makita, Miyanishi and even Akiyoshi who is better suited as a setup man. Okada can be a lefty specialist while the other three cna take the late innings if necessary. It's likely that Hirano closes while Matsui the setup role. Masui can also be a reliever for a few innings like Fujinami and Senga.

There may not be the elite player that Otani is for this group, but Sugano and Norimoto should be the top 1-2 punch among the starters and there is plenty of depth.

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Catchers (3): 
Motohiro Shima (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)

Shota Ono (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

Seiji Kobayashi (Yomiuri Giants)

Analysis: 

Ono had arguably the best defensive season among Pacific League catchers and has a quick arm to throw runners out. Shima is the most well-rounded catcher and can hit the best among the trio. Kobayashi is the youngest, but came off a solid season with the highest UZR among NPB catchers who qualified.

It's possible that all three catchers will see time depending on who is pitching, but Shima is the best option if the team needs offense.

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Infielders (6): 

1B Sho Nakata (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

2B Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima Carp)

SS Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri Giants)

2B Tetsuto Yamada (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

3B Nobuhiro Matsuda (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

SS Kosuke Tanaka (Hiroshima Carp)

Analysis: 

The infield is stacked with talent that someone who is normally great will be on the bench. Manager Hiroki Kokubo is rumored to like Kikuchi's defense in the field with Tetsuto Yamada as a DH to get both of them in the lineup. It's clear cut that Nakata, Matsuda and Sakamoto will be playing 1B, 3B and SS, respectively.

Kosuke Tanaka provides solid depth if necessary, but the question is how much playing time will Kikuchi get?

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Outfielders (6): 

Seiichi Uchikawa (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

Shogo Akiyama (Saitama Seibu Lions)

Seiya Suzuki (Hiroshima Carp)

Norichika Aoki (Houston Astros)

Ryosuke Hirata (Chunichi Dragons)

Analysis: 

The big rumor is that Kokubo is higher on playing Aoki as a starting OF. This would be a large mistake given that he is likely on the wrong side of his career. He should be a pinch hitter or someone off the bench at best. If Aoki starts, someone else has to sit.

It would be a travesty if Tsutsugo doesn't get everyday playing time and is only available on the bench to pinch hit, assuming that Yamada could DH. Akiyama is expected to be a reserve while Suzuki and Hirata are candidates to start. Uchikawa becomes a top pinch hit option off the bench and can also play 1B.

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Pitcher's Pool (8)

Kenta Ishida (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

Tatsushi Masuda (Saitama Seibu Lions)

Yasuaki Yamasaki (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

Yuta Iwasada (Hanshin Tigers)

Masahiko Morifuku (Yomiuri Giants)

Yusuke Nomura (Hiroshima Carp)

Daichi Osera (Hiroshima Carp)

Hirokazu Sawamura (Yomiuri Giants)

Analysis: 

As with every roster, this is all done by ear if any of them receive a call up due to injury or performance. I'd personally have Masuda or Sawamura as the best reliever options while Nomura should be the best starter among the bunch. If Kokubo wants a lefty specialist, Morifuku can be that guy. This list is mostly here in the event of an injury as Kokubo only chose one designated pitcher, putting a vote of confidence in the players he originally selected.

Note: Hirano is the designated pitcher and is the only eligible player to be replaced for non-injury reasons.  

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Expectations:

Samurai Japan will not need to leave the country, let alone Kanto as the first and second rounds are scheduled to be in Tokyo Dome. By facing Cuba, China and Australia in the opening round, they are all but a lock to move to the second round.

South Korea and the Netherlands should be a threat in Round 2, but Samurai Japan should at least make the the Finals in Los Angeles. According to the betting odds, Samurai Japan is considered the third best team behind the Dominican Republic and USA. The talent is still elite, but just not the level it could've been had Otani been with the team.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Seibu Lions 2017 Spring Camp outlook: Outfield

Yuji Kaneko is now an outfielder. 
The Saitama Seibu Lions are all but settled in the outfield for 2017 barring no injuries. Depth is always key and it will be interesting to see who is behind the starters.

Last year, we saw a revolving door in right field. The emergence of Yuji Kaneko's speed had him become an everyday right fielder and balanced the lineup where he would even be a leadoff hitter.

Starters: 

Takumi Kuriyama: Kuriyama had a strong start to 2016, but regressed and fell to being normal. Defense was above average, but he doesn't have the greatest arm in LF. He also took a hometown discount to remain with the Lions and passed the torch of his captaincy to Hideto Asamura.

Shogo Akiyama: Akiyama didn't have a record breaking year in 2016, but still showed he can be a fine leadoff hitter. If it weren't for a poor stretch when batting third, he would have hit .300. He was still solid at getting on base for a leadoff hitter and had plus range in CF. Akiyama was the only Lion to play in every single inning for 2016.

Yuji Kaneko: Kaneko had some poor defense at SS for 2016 and the Lions moved him to right field for his speed. He had a better bat than before and was a co-stolen base king for 2016 tied with Yoshio Itoi at 53. He may not steal as many bases, but if he can get on base or be the 9-hitter, it won't be a bad thing.

Reserves: 

Fumikazu Kimura: A converted pitcher, Kimura is in his 5th season of being an outfielder. At best, he is a spell outfielder for occasional starts.  

Ryo Sakata: Sakata is capable of hitting, but he can't be an everyday outfielder. He could be the best pinch hitter among the outfield unit and is decent as a 4th OF.

Shogo Saito: Saito played several games in 2015 as the 4th outfielder and defensive sub. His playing time decreased in 2016 where he was only good as a defensive sub for Kuriyama or Kaneko. He will most likely be a replacement player or pinch runner.

Yutaro Osaki: One of the veterans on the Lions, Osaki is mostly a pinch hitter or an outfielder they like when the team sees a pitching matchup in their favor. He saw only four games of ichi-gun action in 2016.

Masato Kumashiro: Kumashiro has been a starter before, but his role has continued to diminish since 2014. He is now seen as a defensive substitute for late in the games.

Shotaro Tashiro: Tashiro is mostly a pinch runner who gets occasional games in the outfield as a defensive replacement. Unfortunately, he was remembered for being picked off by Shota Ono as he was supposed to be the tying run in a game. When the Lions need to deactivate a pitcher with no games ahead, Tashiro is likely to be the roster filler for the few games.

The Farm:

Aito Otaki: Otaki was a high school fourth round draft pick in 2015 out of Hanasaki Tokuharu. His high school is located in Saitama prefecture.

Shohei Suzuki: Suzuki will be playing his first season with the Lions organization and was the team's 4th round pick from 2016. Like Otaki, he is a high school draft pick expected to be a future leadoff hitter.

Daisuke Togawa: Togawa was a former ikusei draft pick and was promoted to the 70-man roster before the 2016 season. He has yet to play an ichi-gun game.

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Outlook: 

Kaneko, Kuriyama and Akiyama are all but guaranteed to start in the outfield on opening day. Sakata is likely the favorite to land the fourth outfield role while the 5th OF position is up for grabs.

The Lions can be flexible with calling up or sending down anyone they please even though there is a 10-day wait if someone gets deactivated. Saito and Kumashiro are the best defensive choices among who is left, but don't be surprised if Tomoya Mori gets a few games in RF.

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Other positions: 

Rotation

Catcher

Infield

Bullpen

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Seibu Lions 2017 Spring Camp outlook: Bullpen


For the most part, the Saitama Seibu Lions were decent in the bullpen. While there were some mishaps and blown games, the pitching itself was not the problem.

The Lions were thrust in and one injury would later ruin the entire unit with no bridge to get to the closer. This year, some draft picks hope to make their way somewhere on the team and the bullpen is a good start.

Locks: 

Tatsushi Masuda: Masuda became the team's closer after a strong 2015 as the setup man. His FIP and metrics continued to look amazing, but he still gave up hits. He was still the team's best reliever to finish a game.

Shota Takekuma: Takekuma is likely to be the setup man or could take the 7th inning. Originally a lefty specialist, Takekuma is more than a one trick pony and has proven to be reliable in middle relief. His role could continue to expand from last year.

Kazuhisa Makita: The Lions took a page out of Samurai Japan and had Makita as a middle reliever. It proved to be the right choice as he would take several innings as a "bullpen ace". The change of pace having a submariner out of the bullpen vs being a starter has worked wonders for Makita after having a rough 2015 trying to be the team's closer. He was arguably the team's MVP when it came to pitchers.

Brian Schlitter: Among the new foreign imports, Schlitter is likely to make the ichi-gun to start the year for his power fast ball. It would really help if the Lions can get a pitcher who can blow away batters with velocity.

Specialists: 

Tatsuya Oishi: Oishi has been viewed as a bust after being hyped up as one of the best pitchers in the 2010 draft. Last year showed he found a role as a righty specialist and for inherited runners. With the exception of one game where he gave up two home runs, he did a great job at keeping the ball in the park and showed promise out of the bullpen.

Hirotaka Koishi: Koishi is the man to eat up innings and get a ground ball. His unusual pause in his release is different, but he's an up and down reliever as a whole. Last year, he would take up innings in low leverage if the Lions were down by a run or more. He will have to work on some control to not hit batters.

Frank Garces: Garces could be a lefty specialist in the event that he doesn't crack a spot in the rotation. He has a side arm style of pitch and can still contribute in the bullpen.

Shogo Noda: Noda could be a lefty specialist as he got several meaningful innings in the second half of 2016. He has a snappy release for a much shorter pitcher.

Reserves: 

Ryohei Fujiwara: Fujiwara can be a long reliever, but is decent at missing some bats in a pinch. If the Lions have significant bullpen injuries, Fujiwara becomes an option.

Kentaro Fukukura: Fukukura had a productive 2015 season in ni-gun, but the Lions didn't give him much of a chance at the ichi-gun level. He was a 7th round pick in 2013.

Toshihiro Iwao: Iwao can strike out batters, but has a lack of control. He often gives up a big hit by trying to attack the batter too much and fails to locate. At best, he can eat up innings in low leverage.

Chun-Lin Kuo: Kuo has had control issues which is why the Lions have been careful to not start him much since 2015 ended. If he doesn't earn a spot in the rotation, he can get low leverage innings out of the bullpen.

Yosuke Okamoto: Okamoto is the one pitcher who has issues striking people out. He is forced to put the ball in play, making him a risky option at the ichi-gun level.

Yasuo Sano: Sano could be a spot starter, but can also eat up more low leverage innings.

Takuya Toyoda: Toyoda is all but roster filler in the event the Lions need a reserve pitcher due to other injuries. This could be his last season with the Lions if he can't earn playing time in 2017.

The Farm:

Naoaki Matsumoto: Matsumoto was one of the oldest rookies in NPB last season at age 25. He would earn two games of playing time in low leverage at the end of the year. A former Shikoku Island pitcher, Matsumoto is one of the ultimate underdog stories for a guy who once played in a Hospital Baesball League.

Seiji Kawagoe: Kawagoe is a converted outfielder who is supposed to develop into a reliever. The Lions may have liked the fact he is a lefty and feel he can be developed. Kawagoe was a 2nd round pick in 2015 and has yet to play an ichi-gun game.

Tsubasa Kokuba: Kokuba is one of three Okinawans on the Lions and was their 8th round pick in 2015. He would pitch in two games last September.

Tadasuke Minamikawa: Minamikawa appeared in only four ichi-gun games last year. He was the 5th round pick in the 2015 NPB Draft.

Shunta Nakatsuka: Nakatsuka could be a starter, but with his high velocity potential, we think it is best that he gets reps out of the bullpen in a short burst. This is his rookie season as he was the team's 2nd round pick in 2016.

Katsunori Hirai: Hirai was drafted out of the industrial leagues and is expected to be a reliever. He has a 3/4 arm slot delivery with a decent breaking ball. Hirai was the team's 5th round draft pick in 2016.

Ichiro Tamura: Tamura is also projected as a reliever among the rookies. After being a starter in college, the Lions like him as a possible setup candidate for the long run. He was drafted in the 6th round last fall.

Recovering from injury:

Tomomi Takahashi: Takahashi was the closer from 2014-2015. After a regression and losing his job as a closer, he would suffer an elbow injury in early 2016. He would get Tommy John surgery and will spend most of this season recovering from it. It's possible he has a chance to play in September.

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Outlook: 

The Lions have taken a combined 12 pitchers in the last two draft classes and it appears a lot of them can see time out of the bullpen. The opening day bullpen should be all but settled, but it's possible that two spots could be open to anyone who makes a good impression on the coaching staff.

If anything, it's nice to see fresh faces when most of the reserves are rather stale and in need of change.

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Other positions: 

Rotation

Catcher

Infield

Outfield

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Lost in the Shuffle: Netherlands' Baseball Golden Generation


In sports, it's easy to overlook the great teams that just haven't earned the silverware that is required to receive the plaudits to be called a "great team." The Buffalo Bills of the 90s, the Cleveland Indians of the mid-90s, Brazil's 1982 World Cup team, Belgium's current national soccer team and the Netherlands' mid-70s total football teams led by Johan Cruyff are all examples of teams that fall under this classification. Then there's the current Kingdom of the Netherlands Baseball Team.

Despite being a minority sport in Holland (the Netherlands' more common name), baseball has a fine history where legend has it that the Dutch played baseball as a way to mock their German occupiers in World War II because it's an American game. Holland is very much a culture that is organized by their clubs where traditionally, Dutch citizens belong to an organization that provides them their hobbies or sports that they would like to play or pursue and not just into their youth, usually this membership is a lifelong one. This is why a sports club like Ajax Amsterdam found so much success in soccer during the 20th Century. In fact, most of these clubs have a baseball team including Ajax where Johan Cruyff was a catcher in his teenage years before becoming arguably the greatest contributor to the game of soccer.

When we think of Dutch sports, we think of their progressive soccer team that has produced stars from Cruyff to Dennis Bergkamp and Wesley Sneijder. Beyond that, every Winter Olympics is exposed to the passionate orange mob that surrounds Speed Skating events where Dutch skaters are always on the medal stand. We don't think of the Dutch for their baseball prowess, but that should change.

Part of that reason is because most of Holland's baseball stars come from their constituent islands in the Caribbean rather than the mainland of Holland. Before the 2004 Little League World Series, not many people in the United States even knew how to pronounce the island of Curaçao and that all started to change when a team led by future Major Leaguers Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop led their team to the island's first championship. This team would begin Holland's baseball golden generation as more and more Dutch players have made impacts upon baseball around the world.


Just to name a few of those players' accomplishments, Andrelton Simmons leads all shortstops according to baseball-reference in bWAR over the last 5 years and is widely considered the game's best defensive shortstop. Wladimir "Coco" Balentien broke Sadaharu Oh's NPB Home Run Record after several foreign players were denied.

Xander Bogaerts is coming off of two great seasons with the Red Sox and is now joining the conversation as MLB's best combo shortstop. Kenley Jansen just signed a 5 year, $80 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and is arguably MLB's best closer. Jonathan Schoop is coming off a 25 home run season with Baltimore and has surprisingly outplayed his more hyped Little League teammate, Jurickson Profar who has struggled with injuries. Eindhoven's Rick van den Hurk has provided successful seasons in the KBO and NPB and is arguably mainland Holland's best player. 

All these players will likely be playing together in this year's World Baseball Classic.

The nation has come a long way in baseball from the years where Andruw Jones and Randall Simon were the only recognizable players on their 2006 World Baseball Classic team. The team has even come a long way from that team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic that shocked the world and eliminated a star-studded Dominican Republic team by beating them twice in epic fashion. This was evident during the 2011 Baseball World Cup where Holland, led by Bogaerts and Schoop won their country's first major competition by defeating a USA team led by AJ Pollock and Drew Smyly and a Cuban team in the final led by Jose Abreu, Alfredo Despaigne, and Yulieski Gurriel.

It was the first World Cup victory by a European country since the 1930s and it was the moment that dictated the moment we are in right now where the Netherlands is a legitimate sleeper in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

I don't expect anyone out there to go out of their way to pick Holland to win the World Baseball Classic, but in terms of a sleeper, there's probably no one better. Holland definitely have some top level talent that can compete with the favorites, but they probably lack the depth that the favorites all possess. In 2013, the team's core was still rather young and far from seasoned but they still went to the semifinals where they fell to the eventual champions, Dominican Republic. They certainly are much more ready for this year's edition.

Unlike soccer, baseball has had a difficult time incorporating international play into their sport and because of this, great collections of talent from one specific country often go unnoticed. And unless Holland wins the World Baseball Classic this year, this team will likely not get the credit that it deserves.

In soccer, Holland's national team is nicknamed the Oranje, so I've decided to call their baseball team the "Honkbal Oranje," since honkbal is Dutch for baseball. As it stands, the Honkbal Oranje have won 22 European Baseball Championships, 1 Baseball World Cup, a 4th place finish at the WBC, and 5th place at the Olympics. Not too shabby for a country that considers baseball a minority sport.

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